By Eduardo Stanley
Photos courtesy of Aria Luna
When you look at Aria Luna’s painting, you know it’s not kid stuff. It’s paintwork. And then you learn she is a kid. So you take again a look at her work, and perhaps you’ll scratch your head. Yes, she is still a child. And she does paint.
“When I was six or nine months old, my dad put a pen on my hand and I started guiding my hand along making doodles or curves. But when I was two years old, I discovered I can paint or use markers. Then I started doing more colorful stuff, not just simple things,” said Aria over the phone. “My first drawing was an octopus.”
She lives close to the coast in Sunnyvale, south of San Francisco, with her parents, both immigrants. Her mother, Birgitte, is an immigrant from the Czech Republic and her dad, Andres, was born in Colombia.
Aria’s passion for painting grew, and she started taking painting classes when she was six years old.
In 2019, Aria was commissioned to paint a six-foot-tall fiberglass statue of a sea lion at the Aquarium of the Bay to celebrate the return of the sea lions to the Bay Area. The statue is now on display at Pier 39 in San Francisco.
“I feel good when I see it, it’s my work,” said Aria with a tone of pride in her voice. “And I get to share it with so many kids and adults…and elders.”
In 2017, Aria was invited to be part of an art exhibit and she was offered to create a mural. The then seven-year-old painter decided to create “Dragon Storm,” an original story she wrote about a mother dragon protecting her egg from a fearsome fire-breathing dragon. So there is a battle. And other dragon characters, as well as other animals.
In October 2017, the wildfire in Santa Rosa destroyed more than 5,000 homes and killed 20 people. Aria decided to use the opening of the mural to raise money for the victims of the fire. At the beginning, she and her mother hesitated to raise money for fire victims through an exhibit about fire-breathing dragons. However, they comprehended the importance of the metaphor: that fire could be destructive but also the beginning of a new life.
Aria worked with the Latino Community Foundation on this project, and she raised money with her classmates for the victims of the Santa Rosa area.
Currently, she is raising funds for Latino families who have been separated or detained by ICE. She is doing so in cooperation with organizations such as KIND, RaicesTexas, Al Otro Lado and Families Belong Together.
The painting “Exodus” is about Mexican and Central American kids who are in detention centers at the border. I depicted two kids escaping, however, there is danger ahead,” explained Aria. “It’s so evil to arrest kids, separate them from their parents.”
This involvement on social issues isn’t new for Aria. She creates art to raise awareness of issues affecting our communities, including plastic pollution, wildlife and much more. Her work has raised—and raises—funds for art programs, ocean conservation, wildfire relief and children in ICE custody.
In 2019, the Consulate of Mexico invited Aria to submit a piece to the Dibujo Infantil call for artists. The theme was “Este es mi México” (“This is my Mexico”); participants were asked to portray their favorite Mexican figure. Aria portrayed Sophie Cruz, the child of undocumented parents turned activist for immigrants’ rights.
Both Sophie and Aria were born the same year, 2010. The portrait includes a landscape in the background that gives us a glance of the mountains of Oaxaca, the southern state of Mexico where Sophie’s parents came from.
Aria has been featured on NBC’s California Live as “the world’s youngest exhibiting artist” and on Cartoon Network for her “artistic-activism” during the 2020 Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as in other media outlets.
When Aria isn’t painting, she enjoys playing with friends and bird watching. She is working on her new exhibit called “Amazonas” and planning a call to young people to work for a better future. “If children are the future of the world, I want the world to be a better place to be,” explained Aria.
Can this growing media attention change Aria’s personality? She isn’t worried. “I am glad I can spread awareness, I just want people to get inspired, to get hope and to do something about injustices.”
To learn more about Aria’s work, visit www.arialuna.com. Contact her via Instagram (@aria.luna.art) or Twitter (@Aria_Luna_Art).
Eduardo Stanley is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.